NHK World updates app to issue disaster alerts in English

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Tourists and residents in Japan who don’t speak Japanese no longer need to be concerned about missing out on earthquake and tsunami alerts.

Thanks to a new feature added on Feb. 1 to an app offered by NHK World, an English news channel provided by the public broadcaster, travelers or residents who don’t speak Japanese will be able to receive emergency warnings on their smartphones in English.

They will have the choice of turning on notifications for earthquake and tsunami warnings as well as breaking news alerts. The breaking news alerts will include J-Alert warnings and updates on weather-related incidents, such as volcanic eruptions and typhoons.

The alerts will be available for people who download the free app — called NHK World TV — and turn on push notifications in its settings menu.

Although the notifications are available only in English, NHK plans to introduce a Chinese option later this year.

A total of 115 representatives from 67 Tokyo-based embassies and officials from Japan’s ministries attended a briefing on the new service at NHK headquarters in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Tuesday.

“The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake taught us many important lessons,” said Shogo Takahashi, editor in chief of an NHK World news program. “At times it was difficult for officials and (the) media to communicate effectively to people who could not understand Japanese.”

He said he hopes the app “will bridge that divide and ensure everyone in Japan will know what’s happening, when it is happening.”

Embassy officials attending the event were hopeful the new service would help tourists and residents who do not understand Japanese deal with emergencies here.

“I think it’s a great app. I’m going to use it myself, I’m going to recommend it to my friends and I’m going to recommend it to Moldovans residing in Japan,” Daniel Voda, second secretary to the Embassy of the Republic of Moldova, told The Japan Times.

Liang Zheming, second secretary to the consular section of the Chinese Embassy, said an app would be effective in getting crucial information to travelers since most Chinese tourists have a smartphone.

Liang also stressed the importance of providing not only warnings, but also instructions — such as on how to evacuate — since tourists may not have experienced disaster drills before, adding that he looked forward to getting the Chinese version of the app soon.